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3 stars
Would have made a great novella; as a 702-page novel, it overpromises and underdelivers

The premise of Sleeping Beauties, a father-son collaboration between Stephen and Owen King, is compelling: as the world’s women fall asleep, they are covered in mysterious white cocoons. Waking them up is a very bad idea with frequently lethal consequences. The world’s men, together with the dwindling number of women who manage to stay awake, attempt to figure out what’s going on. And the story of the sleeping women turns out to be more complex, as well.

The book focuses on how the crisis plays out in the fictional town of Dooling, West Virginia. King/King bring the characters to life quickly: the driven town sheriff Lila Norcross and her reserved husband Clint, who is a psychiatrist at the women’s prison; the world-weary prison warden, Janice Coates and her daughter Michaela, a national TV news celebrity; the inmates of the women’s prison; the town’s bullies and creeps.

The book’s core strength are these beautifully portrayed characters. They kept me invested over the 700 or so pages. But this length also puts the book’s weaknesses into sharp relief. Almost the entire plot takes place in Dooling. It’s fine for a story about a world-changing crisis to have a hyperlocal focus, but the conceit that only the actions within a tiny American town are truly relevant to what happens in the whole world is difficult to swallow.

After hundreds of pages of build-up, the book’s central confrontation is ultimately resolved in an anticlimactic fashion, with limited payoff or resolution. Confrontations between the book’s characters often don’t add up to much in the larger plot; they serve merely as symbols embedded in an ambiguous allegorical message about gender roles.

Sleeping Beauties is timely; it forces the reader to ask themselves moral questions about their own relationship with men and women: How would I act in this situation? Do I know people who would act like this character? Some may find it “too political”, but it really doesn’t have much of a prescriptive message that it whacks you over the head with, and King has always blended his own liberalism into his work.

But it has other issues. Sleeping Beauties could have been an epic, gripping story like King’s post-apocalytpic masterpiece, The Stand; it could have been a poignant parable about gender and power. Instead, it overpromises and underdelivers. 3.5 stars because of the great characterizations and some powerful ideas that stay with you, but rounded down because it falls short of its potential.

In spite of these criticisms, I hope that father and son will continue to collaborate; there’s a dynamism and attention to detail here that I’ve missed in some of King’s recent works, and that holds the promise of greatness.


4 stars
Concise and thoughtful, if a bit random, recommendations from the "Cool Tools" crowd

Kevin Kelly is best known as the founding executive editor of Wired and as a former editor and publisher of the Whole Earth Review. A prolific writer about technology, he also edits Cool Tools, a blog reviewing technology that “really works”. Recomendo is its newsletter offshoot.

Each issue (sample) highlights six finds—tools, websites, videos, and so on—with a summary written by a member of the Cool Tools team. There’s no real unifying theme here; it’s just stuff that is of interest to the writers, whether that happens to be a meat chopper, an online piggy bank, or a set of videos about cryptocurrencies. There’s also no strong ethical component (e.g., is it free software? how was it made?), so you may feel the need to do additional research on the items that are featured.

The descriptions are concise and useful, often relaying the author’s personal experience with a given item. While links to Amazon.com are affiliate links, it’s pretty clear that this newsletter is a passion project first and foremost.

If you enjoy stumbling upon useful tools and tech and don’t mind skim-reading to find it, I recommend the subscription, but check out the previous issues to see if it’s for you.


5 stars
The gift of science, well-explained and beautifully packaged

Quanta Magazine is one of two websites published by the Simons Foundation, the vehicle for hedge fund founder James Simons’ philanthropic giving. Quanta focuses on mathematics, physics, computer science and biology. The other publication is Spectrum News, which covers autism research.

The Simons Foundation had more than $2B in net assets as of its 2015 tax return; Quanta is essentially one of its gifts to the public and does not rely on additional support. This makes it similar to Mosaic (reviews), published by the even more massively endowed Wellcome Trust. However, it publishes a lot more frequently: Mosaic tends to publish 2-4 long-form articles per month; Quanta publishes more than a dozen medium-sized articles in the same timeframe.

Financial background

The name Quanta evokes the source of James Simons’ $18.5B fortune: quant investing. Simons, who worked as an NSA codebreaker at age 26, has been described as “the mathematician who cracked Wall Street” for his use of highly sophisticated mathematical models to predict profitable trades. His personal wealth derives from his hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, which the MIT’s Andrew Lo called the “pinnacle of quant investing” and “the commercial version of the Manhattan Project”.

In 2014, Renaissance was interrogated by the US Senate for the use of an obscure loophole to avoid an estimated $6.8B in capital gains tax, an amount which far exceeds the endowment of the Simons Foundation. Its name has made the news for another reason: Renaissance co-CEO Robert Mercer is one of the biggest backers of Donald Trump’s anti-science Presidency and of the far right, anti-intellectual propaganda outlet Breitbart News, while Simons himself backed Hillary Clinton.

While the philanthropic impulses of the company’s principals are clearly contradictory, Quanta’s editorial beat is unlikely to conflict with Renaissance’s financial origins. Quanta itself has this to say about its editorial independence:

All editorial decisions, including which research or researchers to cover, are made by Quanta’s staff reporting to the editor in chief; editorial content is not reviewed by anyone outside of the news team prior to publication; Quanta has no involvement in any of the Simons Foundation’s grant-giving or research efforts; and researchers who receive funding from the foundation do not receive preferential treatment. The decision to cover a particular researcher or research result is made solely on editorial grounds in service of our readers.

Scope, design, navigation

Quanta’s stated goal is to “illuminate science”. In practice, this translates to articles that seek to arouse curiosity rather than controversy.

Where a magazine like Mosaic doesn’t shy away from in-depth articles about abortion rights in India and the US or sex workers in Mozambique, Quanta tends to write about questions in science that are both interesting and not highly politicized. Over a five-year period, I only found two feature articles with a strong political dimension: “A Physicist Who Models ISIS and the Alt-Right” and “How to Quantify (and Fight) Gerrymandering”. Zero articles about abortion, zero about transgender or homosexuality, one whose primary topic is climate change.

This is not a criticism; there surely is a place for a publication like this, which may succeed in reaching people across the political spectrum and promote a greater interest in science itself. Indeed, for the topics it does tackle, Quanta often succeeds spectacularly at making complex topics accessible and interesting.

This starts with the website design: Quanta is easily one of the most beautiful sites we’ve reviewed. The design leaves a lot of room for large-format images, while scaling well onto mobile devices, as well. Careful use of typography, color and whitespace gives the articles an aesthetic that brings together elements of print and the web in a very appealing manner.


Quanta sometimes publishes interactive micro-sites, such as this explorable (and information-rich) map of current contenders for a “Theory of Everything” (Credit: Quanta Magazine. Fair use.)

Alongside recent articles and features, the front page highlights videos, podcasts, most-read articles, and “recommended features” (which includes articles from previous years). Individual pages include tags like “Microbiology” or “Podcast”. Overall the site is easy to navigate. Most content loads without JavaScript enabled, though some site features will break and leave behind empty boxes.

Content examples

Quanta’s reporting on bacteria and biofilms is illustrative of how it approaches complex topics. The feature story, “Bacteria Use Brainlike Bursts of Electricity to Communicate”, recaps well-understood principles of chemical communication in bacterial colonies, and adds recent findings regarding ion channel communication.

The story is supported by quotes from multiple scientists (five from the United States, one from Spain and one from Italy). It includes a GIF animation that was carefully adapted from YouTube videos published by one of the scientist teams. The writing and approach is similar to Scientific American. In fact, the article was also syndicated to its website, and the author has bylines there and in other science magazines.

Quanta published a related feature titled “Seeing the Beautiful Intelligence of Microbes”, which shows many more examples of biofilm and slime mold behavior, again often employing large format GIF animations. This underscores the magazine’s willingness to go beyond the limitations of a print magazine. It’s a visually stunning feature that even readers with limited scientific interest may enjoy.


Expansion of Pseudomonas biofilm, an example of the kind of carefully produced GIF animation that makes many Quanta articles visually outstanding (Credit: Quanta Magazine. Fair use.)

A more elaborate example is Quanta’s 2015 map of “theories of everything”. It’s an interactive full screen overview of physics concepts like loop quantum gravity and the holographic principle, organized into the larger and overlapping areas of knowledge they relate to. This is the kind of resource you may end up returning to as you read about these topics in the news.

Some Quanta articles are accompanied by podcast episodes. Episodes are featured as a prominent “play” button at the top of a regular article for the relevant episode, which looks like an effective way to draw in listeners who don’t typically subscribe to podcasts.

There is also a YouTube channel. As with many other nonprofit publications, it reaches a relatively small audience of less than 10,000 subscribers, though some of the educational videos (e.g., “What is a species?”) are quite good. There are many education/science YouTube channels with orders of magnitude more subscribers, so perhaps a partnership would be more successful at reaching a large audience.

Licensing

Quanta articles are frequently syndicated to other publications. They are under conventional copyright; in response to an inquiry, a staff member stated that there are no plans to consider a Creative Commons license. This is regrettable: much of the text, image and video content would be useful for open educational resources.

Like Mosaic, Quanta’s funding is secure thanks to a large endowment; it’s not clear why an open access license is off the table. As it is, we can enjoy Quanta for free, but we cannot re-use it and build on it without permission. It is a gift, but one with strings attached.

The Verdict

Quanta succeeds in its mission of making scientific topics accessible, often in a way that inspires further exploration and learning. It’s a beautiful website that makes good use of the web as a medium–through animations, large format photographs, videos, interactives, well-integrated podcasts, and so on.

I recommend following Quanta’s work to any curious person. While I would love to see it under a Creative Commons license, this does not impact the rating per our standard criteria. 5 out of 5 stars.


4 stars
A lovingly compiled introduction to the evolutionary origins of our modern diet

Jonathan Silvertown is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, and a prolific author. His latest book, Dinner with Darwin, provides a highly compressed summary of what evolutionary biology can tell us about our food, from the domestication of plants and animals to how we unknowingly harnessed complex microbiology when we learned how to make cheese, wine and beer.

The book is more meticulously researched than most popular science books; the extensive end notes provide many references to recent scientific papers. But it maintains a lighthearted tone throughout, beginning with an imaginary reunion dinner with our hominin ancestors. This narrative device leads us to an exploration of different food groups like fish, bread, meat, vegetables, desserts, and alcohol.

In each of these contexts, we are served morsels of knowledge: about how wheat’s massive genome (much larger than our own!) has allowed it to adapt to many different climates; about why our sense of smell is crucial to our ability to discern flavors; about how our ape-like ancestors’ acquired ability to eat rotten fruit set the stage for humanity’s roller-coaster relationship with alcohol.

Wild mustard selection illustration
There are many visually powerful ways to explain the impact of artificial selection, such as this illustration of wild mustard selection from the University of Berkeley’s Evolution Library. Unfortunately, “Dinner with Darwin” lacks visual explanations, aside from a few (useful) maps.

The book ends with a brief discussion of the future of food, including a vigorous defense of genetic engineering to support the survival of our ever-growing population in the face of climate change. In this brief chapter, Silvertown doesn’t touch on topics like biological patents and biodiversity, and in this respect, his argument feels a bit unfair to critics of agri-corporations who have more nuanced pro-science perspectives (e.g., critiques of biopiracy and of patentability per se).

The acknowledgments begin on page 197, making the book a quick and pleasurable read that may leave you hungry for more. There are six maps, but no photos or illustrations, which is a bit of a missed opportunity—whether the author is discussing the artificial selection of plants towards non-shattering seed heads, or the hybridization of yeast strains to achieve properties such as cold resistance, there are many occasions where visual explanations would have helped.

Regardless, you are almost certain to learn something new in each chapter. The book, then, is more of a starter course: after reading it, you may want to dive deeper into topics like artificial selection, re-examine your gardening practices from an evolutionary perspective, or start your own alcohol experiments (of the highly scientific variety, of course). 4 out of 5 stars.


4 stars
Incomplete answers to difficult physics questions, and puns - oh, so many puns

If you have a casual interest in physics, it can seem impossible to keep up with the field: what’s a boson and what does Higgs have to do with it? What are “gravitation waves”—indeed, what is gravity anyway? Is string theory still a credible contender as a “Theory of Everything”? Will the Large Hadron Collider destroy the world, and if not, what good is it?

Every year, many books make an attempt to summarize our current best understanding of key physics concepts to laypersons, either by avoiding the mathematics entirely or by focusing on some key equations. We Have No Idea stands out for two reasons:

  • As the title suggests, it makes an honest attempt to separate the known from the unknown, rather than advancing a given author’s preferred hypothesis for how the universe fits together.

  • The book is peppered with cartoons of pet ferrets planning a water balloon attack against their owner, of particle detectors surrounded by cows (“we’re looking for muuuuuons”), of the authors being embraced by the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s noodly appendages, … you get the idea.

Example illustration
Unlike this anthropomorphized galaxy, the book does not take itself too seriously.

The book is a collaboration between Jorge Cham, creator of PHDComics, and Daniel Whiteson, Professor of Experimental Particle Physics at the University of California, Irvine. Beside the illustrations, the writing is littered with puns, and almost all the footnotes are a vehicle for dad jokes. But at its heart, the book tackles very big questions, e.g.:

  • What is the universe made of?

  • What are dark matter and dark energy?

  • What are mass, gravity, space?

Throughout the book, the authors keep making the same point over and over again: there are a lot of unanswered questions, controversies, and mysteries that remain. This does in fact get a bit repetitive, but many explanations are lucid and helpful.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Particle physics is Whiteson’s specialty, and it’s especially here that the book shines. The book relates the familiar periodic table to various categorizations of more fundamental particles like quarks and leptons, and arranges them in tables, e.g.: how do different particles transmit force, and how do they react to it? The explanations of relativity are also good, and the cartoons are especially helpful here.

The book dedicates a final chapter to extraterrestrial intelligence (“Are we alone in the universe"?). This is, in my view, the most superfluous chapter: neither author is a biologist, and the brief discussion of the Drake equation does not really go beyond widely understood concepts that have already been covered very well in countless books, documentaries and YouTube videos.

In contrast, there’s not much here about “spooky action at a distance”, quantum teleportation, and some of the other challenging ideas in quantum physics. Nor do interesting “Theory of Everything” contenders like Max Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis get any attention.

The Verdict

For a general audience, I would give the book 4 out of 5 stars—some content is a bit too banal and there are some missed opportunities to tackle even weirder ideas and observations in physics, but many explanations and analogies are useful and entertaining.

The “punniness” may get on some readers’ nerves, but it does help to make the book a breezy read even at >350 pages. I would highly recommend the book as a gift for younger readers, as an introduction to how much and how little we know about our weird and wonderful universe.

Further Reading

On the book’s website, the authors have done an excellent job collecting additional helpful links about the book, so I’m taking the liberty of quoting them in full:

Read this excerpt on the PHD website, or this excerpt on Popular Science Magazine. Nautilus Magazine also published this excerpt about space, and BBC Sky at Night reviewed our book and interviewed Jorge (as did Chemistry World in their podcast and in print). Meanwhile, Nature interviewed Jorge and Daniel in their podcast, while Nature Physics gave the book an awesome review. Jorge illustrated over 26 reviews of the book from Amazon, and was interviewed by the NPR show Inquiry. Daniel was interviewed for NPR’s Here and Now. If you’d like to know how Jorge and Daniel started working together, Physics World published the oral history of our collaboration. We also made awesome video collaborations based on chapters of the book with Henry Reich of Minute Physics, Minute Earth, Hank Green’s SciShow Space and Dianna Cowern’s Physics Girl. Check out this great article on Symmetry Magazine about our book and this awesome editorial by Daniel on the need to teach the unknown. Listen to Daniel talk about the Universe on The Lopate Show or read this interview with Jorge and Daniel on Unbound Worlds. Check out this fun comic collaboration with SMBC’s Zach Weinersmith. And this one with David Malki’s Wondermark. Listen to Daniel introduce why we wrote the book on the PRH Audio website. And listen to this preview of the audiobook. Read Jorge’s letter announcing the book.


5 stars
An intense, meticulously researched history of the ongoing fight for voting rights in the US

We have a tendency to view history in chapters with clear boundaries (“World War II”, “The Cold War”, “Late Capitalism”). But as William Faulkner’s immortal words remind us: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Along with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (review), Ari Berman’s “Give Us the Ballot” is a crucial work published prior to the election of Donald Trump yet essential to understanding it, not as an anomaly but as a continuation of a past that isn’t dead—or past.

Ari Berman is a senior contributing writer for The Nation. His book is a meticulously researched history of voting rights in the United States, with focus on the period from the 1960s to the final years of the Obama administration.

Based in significant part on interviews with more than 130 individuals, including iconic civil rights figures like the late Julian Bond and Rep. John Lewis, Berman’s book brings to life the bloody, sometimes lethal struggles of African-Americans and Latinos to participate in American democracy.

Yes, you will find here a history of the Selma to Montgomery marches and graphic descriptions of racist figures like Jim Clark, whose infamous posse terrorized American citizens with whips and cattle prods. You will find a clear explanation of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its enforcement. But far more important is Berman’s research into what happened in the following decades.

NYT front page after "Bloody Sunday" in Selma
The front page of the New York Times after “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama

A History of Counterrevolutions

First, Berman shows the many attempts, especially by southern states, to circumvent the law. From refusing to seat elected black legislators to messing with district boundaries and changing election rules, every dirty trick was tried to maintain white supremacy.

Second, the book makes it clear that, at least for a while, a bipartisan consensus in Congress helped protect the right to vote against many of those efforts. Ultimately, it was the Supreme Court, not Congress, that declawed the Voting Rights Act, just when it was urgently needed again (Shelby v. Holder).

Finally, Berman documents how the Republican Party (GOP), as the inevitable consequence of the Southern Strategy it embraced in the 1960s, became the party of voter suppression and racially charged stereotyping. Minorities and low-income voters overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, so whether or not GOP legislators harbor any racist sentiments, strategies that effectively suppress the vote of those demographics help GOP candidates.

As Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich put it chillingly in a 1980 speech to evangelicals (video courtesy of PFAW; the quote also appears in the book):

I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Since then, the rhetoric has shifted to “election integrity” and “voter fraud” to justify arbitrary changes to voting rules (including elimination of reforms like early voting or same-day registration) and voter ID requirements that disproportionately impact poor people and minorities. Beyond citing the facts, Berman illuminates them through personal stories (page 307):

During the state’s municipal elections in November 2013, [Texas voter Floyd] Carrier, an eighty-three-year-old who had been an army paratrooper in the Korean War, brought his expired driver’s license, VA card, and voter registration card to the polls in China, Texas, where he’d lived and voted for sixty years.

The poll workers immediately recognized Carrier but would not let him vote because, they said, he didn’t have a valid voter ID. “I felt terrible,” Carrier told the court, “because all I did for my country and they turn me down, so I just felt like I wasn’t a citizen anymore.”

I was moved to tears by some of these stories. As horrific as the brutal voter suppression of the Jim Crow era was, the slow unraveling of progress that has been won almost feels worse. But by telling the stories of how people fought back in the past and how they are doing it today, Berman maintains our belief that positive change is possible—it is just not guaranteed.

This book is not always an easy read: there are no illustrations, photos, maps, graphs, or tables to provide visual or quantitative context (statistics like turnout and registration data are always cited in the flow of the text), and Berman’s journalistic approach of introducing person after person after person doesn’t easily translate to a 300+ page book. I found myself repeatedly scanning back for the mentioned names, “who is this again?”

But the payoff is worth it. “Give Us the Ballot” is a crucial history for any political conscious American citizen or resident living now under a President who regularly flirts with autocrats and white supremacists (and happily uses their talking points), and who has launched a thinly disguised federal voter suppression effort. To fight back against this well-organized effort to dismantle democracy, arm yourself with the facts.


5 stars
Excellent free resource for learning a language instead of memorizing it

Language Transfer is one of those projects that represent the Internet at its best: a passionate individual (Mihalis Eleftheriou) and a community of volunteers creating free learning resources for the whole world. Mihalis may well become known as the Sal Khan of language learning, but unlike the well-endowed Khan Academy, the project is entirely funded through small donations, primarily via Patreon.

The LT courses are audio lessons. Mihalis interacts with a student. As you listen, you pause at relevant points to provide your own answer, then compare it with the student’s (and, if different, with Mihalis’ response). There are courses of different degrees of completion in French, Swahili, Italian, Greek, German, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, and English (for Spanish speakers).

In effect, a 10 minute audio file may take you 15-20 minutes to complete. I don’t recommend listening to these courses in the background. They deserve your undivided attention. The courses are carefully edited, so it never feels like you’re wasting time.

I’ve completed the 90 track “Complete Spanish” course and can say that, of all the language learning resources I’ve used in the last year (Duolingo, Lingvist, Mango, and various books), it’s been the most helpful one in helping me understand the language rather than just memorizing words or attempting to intuit rules on my own.

Seeing the connections

Learning a language primarily through memorization can be frustrating. It takes forever to feel like you’re making progress, and irregularities can quickly break your memorization patterns. Instead, Mihalis’ approach is to help you see the connections between languages, and the rules and patterns within them.

This can provide immediate payoff. For example, in the “Complete Spanish” course, Mihalis spends some time early on showing how, in thousands of cases, Spanish words can be constructed from English ones that share the same Latin origin. Rather than spending a lot of time building the initial vocabulary, Mihalis then uses many of these words to construct the first sentences.

Where possible, he explains why exceptions and irregularities exist: vowels that got swallowed over time, words that were transferred into Spanish from a different language like Arabic or Greek, accents that help to avoid ambiguity. He also points out negative language transfer—cases where we may be tempted to mistakenly use rules we’re familiar with. Listen to this example:

Advice like this is incredibly helpful and often omitted in other learning resources. Similarly, Mihalis adds important context about the regional differences (“you may hear it said this way, or that way”). When dealing with difficult parts of the language, like the subjunctive in Spanish, he helpfully reminds us that these are the exciting moments of learning a language: when you become able to express something in a wholly new way.

What’s so powerful about this approach is that it reflects the reality of how languages have spread and developed over time, through human migration, trade, conquest, and local customs. Seeing the connections between languages like English, Spanish and Arabic makes it easier to recognize jingoism and cross-cultural prejudices for what they are.

I recommend Language Transfer without any reservations, by itself or as a companion to other learning resources. You can play the audio files on the site or download them, including via official .torrent files (here’s the Spanish one). And if you get value out of it, consider making room in your donations budget for a monthly gift.


5 stars
A beautiful coming-of-age story

This story of a year in the life of Jason Taylor, a thirteen-year-old English boy, is one of David Mitchell’s most down-to-Earth books, subtle but not simple. Full of beautiful vignettes and aphorisms (Taylorisms?), Black Swan Green is at times to funny and evocative that it made me laugh out loud while reading. The year is 1982, Great Britain is about to enter the Falklands War, and Jason is a stammering, confused kid who writes poetry and is trying to make sense of his world.

David Mitchell can’t quite resist sometimes pushing Jason Taylor aside and taking over in his own voice, causing dissonant ripples in the story’s flow. But when Jason’s voice comes through loud and clear, Mitchell succeeds in revealing the timeless sense of wonder behind the papier-mâché mask of our adulthood. 4.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up.


Section 31: Abyss (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
3 stars
A fun DS9 novel that doesn't quite deliver on its intriguing premise

Abyss, published in 2001, is the third novel of the “DS9 relaunch”, a series of books and comics that continue the story of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine beyond the excellent television series, which ended after 176 episodes in 1999.

Abyss focuses on Doctor Julian Bashir’s continued entanglements with the mysterious and amoral intelligence agency that calls itself “Section 31”. In a galaxy where many planets, including Earth, have chosen the path of cooperation through the United Federation of Planets, Section 31 claims to quietly do the Federation’s “dirty work” necessary to keep the peace—even if it involves mass murder.

Section 31 recruits Bashir on a mission to subvert a secret base run by a genetically enhanced scientist like himself. (Bashir, for his part, hopes to also collect information to take down Section 31.)

In Star Trek’s alternative history of Earth, genetic engineering ultimately led to the Eugenics Wars, where enhanced “superhumans” nearly destroyed the planet. After the wars, genetic enhancement became taboo, and those who (like Bashir and his adversary) live with such enhancements are regarded with suspicion.

Bashir tried to use his talents for good, while his opponent appears to more interested in using his expertise to breed an army of super-soldiers and take on the Federation.

The premise is interesting enough, and much of the story is quite captivating. Unfortunately, the book loses steam in its final third. Neither Section 31 nor Bashir’s confrontation with his enemy really get the space they deserve. Instead, the book spends a bit too much time on an Avatar-style subplot of an oppressed local population, and on Ro Laren (who is DS9’s security officer in the relaunch, and a part of Bashir’s team for the mission) being angry.

Bashir fans will likely still enjoy this novel, and it integrates nicely into the DS9 relaunch series. Personally, I would give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, rounded down—a solid premise, well-paced, but limited resolution and payoff.


4 stars
A very creepy little book building on "The Bone Clocks" and earlier works

David Mitchell, best known for Cloud Atlas, can be a difficult writer to appreciate. In the same book, he often hops from genre to genre: crime, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, you name it. With books like Thousand Autumns, you think you’re reading historical fiction, but then it turns out that there’s a supernatural component, which then ties into his larger fictional universe. In many of his novels, there’s a lot to unpack before you get to the payoff.

With Slade House, Mitchell delivers something much simpler: a straightforward horror story. And this one really packs a punch. It’s a tale of a haunted house that is also a feeding ground—and those who enter are the food. While Slade House very explicitly ties into the story told in his previous novel, The Bone Clocks, this isn’t a sequel. It’s more of a brief, optional detour during the larger epic Mitchell appears to be weaving.

Through a set of short sequences set years apart from each other, Mitchell manages to really drive the horror of Slade House home in a way that I can only describe as “gut-wrenching”. Don’t expect too much from this short book—think of it more like one of Stephen King’s better horror novellas. This is no Cloud Atlas, nor does it pretend to be; nonetheless, I found it well worth the quick read. 4 out of 5 stars.

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